Rita Tharp had plenty of experience deer hunting in the rolling hillsides around her Trimble County farm. So when she learned that she’d won the drawing for a 2004 Kentucky elk hunt, Tharp greeted the news with a mixture of enthusiasm and apprehension.
“It was perhaps one of the luckiest days of my life, but I’d never been elk hunting before,” she said. “When you think about elk hunting, you think about going to Colorado or some place out west. The fact that it’s happening right here in Kentucky is exciting beyond words.”
Elk disappeared from the state about 150 years ago. However, thanks to an aggressive restoration and stocking project started in 1997, Kentucky now has the largest herd of free-roaming elk east of the Mississippi River. Biologists estimate the eastern Kentucky herd will number around 5,300 this fall.
The return of elk to Kentucky led to another kind of restoration: the re-emergence of a long-dormant hunting tradition. Like Tharp, most of the people drawn since Kentucky elk hunting resumed in 2001 had never hunted elk. They quickly learned that a good deer hunter makes a good elk hunter. In fact, every person that has gone elk hunting has been successful.
The same equipment used for deer hunting is good for elk hunting, too. Hunters have successfully taken elk with bows, muzzleloaders, and high-powered rifles.
Elk hunting also shares some similarities with turkey hunting. In both cases, hunters can use calls to interact with the animals and draw them closer. Last year, guide Joe Wackerman used a call to bring a bull elk within 20 yards of 11-year-old Stephanie Gavin, Kentucky’s youngest elk hunter. She was successful.
The thought of elk hunting in Kentucky is still so new that it hasn’t really caught on among deer hunters. Last year, fewer than 8,800 hunters paid the $10 fee to apply for an elk hunt. Around 14,000 people applied for deer quota hunts in Kentucky in 2004.
This year, Kentucky will issue 100 elk permits. For most people, it’s actually a permit for the hunt of a lifetime. Just ask Rita Tharp: in 2004, this grandmother took the new state record bull elk.
Consult your hunting guide (available wherever licenses are sold) for more information about Kentucky elk hunting.
You don’t have to leave home to apply for a Kentucky elk hunt or to purchase any state hunting or fishing license. Just call the toll-free license line at (877) 598-2401 or visit www.fw.ky.gov on the Internet. The deadline to purchase an elk hunt application for this season is July 31.